Does Your Special Needs Child Really Need a Guardianship?

October 19, 2009

Last week I gave a presentation to Weymouth parents of special needs young adults, and from our conversation, it was clear that the school system was telling them that when a special needs child turns 18, the family must obtain a guardianship. As I’ve written elsewhere, this costs money, involves lawyers, and requires going to court. And for kids with developmental disabilities, there is the daunting clinical team report, which requires coordinating three different professionals.

Fortunately, guardianship (and its accompanying conservatorship) is not necessarily the answer for every family. For lots of kids, a Health Care Proxy and Durable Power of Attorney are the way to go. I don’t know why school special ed personnel are not educated on this, but the Health Care Proxy and Durable Power of Attorney are much more respectful of the young adult’s autonomy and cost significantly less – thousands of dollars less – with a fraction of the hassle.

To sign her Health Care Proxy and Durable Power of Attorney, the young adult needs to have a basic understanding of what she is appointing the named agents to do (usually her parents, but not necessarily – it’s up to her to decide whom to name). Ask yourself: Does she understand that money buys her things? That money must be saved and spent with care? Does she like to have someone help her manage money and make decisions? Does she like to have someone involved with her medical care? Would she like for someone to be able to tell doctors what to do if she can’t tell them herself?

If you think the answer to these questions is “yes,” then meet with a special needs attorney to discuss a Health Care Proxy and Durable Power of Attorney instead of guardianship and conservatorship. Technically speaking, the question of whether a person has the requisite mental capacity to sign these documents is a legal one, so the attorney will need to meet with the young adult alone – maybe more than once – to make that determination for herself.

And if the attorney decides that indeed this young adult can create and sign these documents, than the small investment you have made is more than outweighed by the savings of avoiding guardianship and conservatorship – in terms of the young adult’s autonomy and your family’s time, money, and emotional capital.

Helping an SSI Recipient (or Anyone) Manage Money

September 14, 2009

Filed under: Adult Disabled Child — Tags: , , , — Alexis @ 10:58 AM

Do you help someone manage their money? Perhaps you are a representative payee on the Social Security checks of an SSI recipient? Or maybe you are the trustee of a special needs trust?

Would the person whose money you manage – let’s call her the recipient – like to have some cash in her pocket for small purchases of her own?

There is an interesting new debit card that can give you the best of both worlds, the Mastercard Allow Card. The premise is that as the trustee or the representative payee, you would put some amount on the card every month, let’s say $200. You would also fill out a lengthy questionnaire, detailing what purchases can and cannot be made with the debit card.

So if, for example, you are managing Social Security funds for an SSI recipient, you know that her SSI checks are meant to be spent on food and shelter. You would allow the debit card to be used for those purchases, but you would, perhaps, block it from being used for buying video games or cigarettes.

Likewise, if you are the trusee of a special needs trust, you know that those funds are not to be used for food or shelter. You would set up the card to reject any attempted purchases of snacks or groceries. And you would allow the card to accept purchases of books, movie tickets, etc.

As the person filling out the questionnaire, you have discretion to set up the purchasing rules as you feel is appropriate. And at the same time, it gives the recipient the independence, satisfaction, and pride of knowing that she can walk into a store and take care of herself.

There are fees associated with both cards, you will need to investigate both and see if this is the right for your situation. Special thanks to Jack Longert of the Wisconsin Pooled and Community Trusts for teaching me about this.